Saturday, October 10, 2009


Ulysses S. Grant's transformation between 1861 and 1869 from an alcoholic ex-soldier and failed farmer to lieutenant general and commander of all the Union armies and President of the United States is the classic rags to riches American success story. And one that captivated me in my youth and inspires me today.

Grant's whirlwind adventure ends on a positive note. Even after his post-presidency years were tarnished when a swindler bilked him out of his savings and terminal cancer consumed his life, he mustered his last remaining resources to write his memoirs, which, with the help of Mark Twain, became an international bestseller that provided his family with financial support after his death.

Now I am discovering other stories of transformation that rivaled Grant's for their rapid and steep ascent to glory. But these stories end tragically.

Take William Wright, an African American born a slave in Kentucky and the current subject of my research. During a three year period, from 1864 to 1870, his life forever changed when he became a Union soldier and free man, then a farmer living for the first time in control of his own affairs and having the ability to pursue his dreams.

There are few instances in history where hope radiated with such brightness and warmth over humanity than in America during this time. The collapse and fall of the Confederacy and the end of a bloody Civil War. The freedom of an enslaved race of people. Three amendments to the Constitution establishing equality for all. During this brief period along our nation's timeline, hope seemed eternal. The dawn of a new age lay before us.

And yet the hope that burned so brightly dimmed quickly as Reconstruction failed. Civil rights were trampled and within a short time African Americans found themselves in a new slavery fueled by racism. And it would last for more than a century, until a new civil rights movements in the 1960s would rekindle the almost extinguished flame of hope.

William Wright would never see the flame rekindled. Driven from his farm in 1871 by what he called "Night Riders," he and his family fled to Iowa, where he lived a modest life as a farmer in a quiet corner of the country. He died in 1901.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Visit to Fort Fisher

This weekend, Anne and I drove to visit our old friend Linda and see her new home in Wilmington, N.C. Went to the beach on Saturday, and stopped by Fort Fisher. It's a spot I've wanted to see since researching a Massachusetts soldier who participated in the successful capture of the fort and its garrison in January 1865.

I enjoyed touring the small, informative museum — the centerpiece of which is an electric map. I've been a sucker for electric maps since seeing the twinkling lights display at Gettysburg when I was a boy. Sadly, the Gettysburg map is not part of the new visitor center. The map at Fort Fisher is complete with gunboats, accurate topographical features, and contemporary voices that bring the battle to life.

I was especially interested to learn about the role of the Twenty-seventh U.S. Colored Infantry. It participated in the capture of the remaining Confederates who fled the fort after it was occupied by federal troops. I've yet to uncover an image of a member of the Twenty-seventh, but am hopeful one will surface.

The map and surrounding museum exhibits is a perfect warm-up for the walking tour around the ruins of the earthen fort structure overlooking the beach and Atlantic Ocean. I took the panorama photo shown here standing in front of the Confederate memorial looking north towards the remains of the fort. Note the storm clouds to the left of the monument. They belong to Hurricane Bill.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

MIA: Nimrod Burke, 23rd USCT

Nimrod Burke stares into the camera, dressed in his army uniform complete with corporal's chevrons and holding a revolver. Burke, a soldier in the Twenty-third U.S. Colored Infantry (USCT), is the great-great grandfather of Henry Robert Burke, an author and historian in Marietta, Ohio.

Some years ago, Burke arranged to have a photograph made of the original image of his Civil War ancestor. A scan of this photograph is pictured here, and on a web page profile of the veteran. The original image, which appears to be a sixth plate tintype, was owned by Burke's cousin.

Today, the location of the original photograph is unknown.

One possible scenario is that the image was purchased by or given to well-known collector Jerry Duvall. On Duvall's passing, his collection was quickly dispersed. This photo may have been sold to a coin collector, at auction, or at the Ohio Civil War Show in Mansfield. I suspect the image is in the hands of a private collector who may or may not know the name of the soldier.

The leads I've pursued have dried up. If you know of the whereabouts of this original image, please let me know. I want to use this photograph in my forthcoming book, but am unable to do so without permission from the owner.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lt. Col. John E. Arthur

Steve Thomas is searching for wartime photographs of his great-great-great grandfather, Lt. Col. John E. Arthur of the Ninety-third Pennsylvania Infantry. Arthur, a Mexican War veteran (wounded at the Belen Gate in 1847), started the Civil War by recruiting Company B of the 93rd Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers in from Reading, PA. The company mustered into service in Lebanon, PA. If you have a wartime image of Lt. Col. Arthur, or any information you'd like to share, please contact Steve at Read more about Col. Arthur.

Hope you can help Steve!

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

This Blog Now Available on Kindle

Amazon's now features Faces of War on Kindle. For a monthly subscription fee of $1.99, you can take this blog with you and peruse it at your leisure.

A bit of a skeptic when the Kindle first launched, I wondered why folks would use it instead of other mobile devices.

Recently, I had an opportunity to take one out for a test drive. It's simple interface, comfortable screen size, light weight and portability impressed me. I would definitely use it as an alternative to other mobile devices. And now I can appreciate the hype associated with it.

The interface, while easy to use, is a bit primitive mechanically. The button action is not as smooth as modern keypads and there is a bit of a delay once the key is pressed. I assume that will be tweaked in future releases.

I don't think Kindle replaces books, for the experience of clicking through an e-reader is completely different from holding a hardbound volume and flipping through pages. Also, the clarity of text and images on a printed page is superior to the Kindle monitor. However, it is certainly an excellent tool for distributing content, and this simple fact caused me to offer this blog for subscription.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Motivated by Flickr Success

Motivated by two recent successful image identifications on Flickr,* I've started hunting for other unidentified soldiers in my holdings. Today I scanned in a carte added to my collection before the Internet went mainstream. The image, pictured here, is identified as J. Frank Monroe, alias Charles Wallack. No unit identification is present. My efforts many years ago to confirm his identity failed, and I filed the image away.

I scanned the image this morning and planned to post it on Flickr in the Unidentified Veterans set. In preparation to write the caption, I did a search on and quickly learned that he was drafted in 1864 and served in the First Connecticut Infantry.

Monroe/Wallack is now posted in the Current Soldiers Under Research set.

What a difference technology makes! I look forward to learning more about him.

* The two Flickr postings are a confirmed identification of Capt. John Huey Weeks of the Ninety-first Pennsylvania Infantry and a tentative confirmation of Capt. William Hydorn Jr. of the Ninety-seventh New York State National Guard.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

In Living Color

I am a purist by nature and by training as a visual journalist. For these reasons, the thought of colorizing images instantly strikes me in a negative tone. However, when I reflect on the many Civil War period photographers who tinted cartes de visite, or employed colorists to artfully add a bit of pigment to enhance a black and white image, my gut instinct is challenged. Moreover, when I consider the value of examining images from different perspectives, and realizing the power of modern technology (in this case, scanners and Photoshop), my curiosity is aroused. What did these soldiers look like in living color? We'll never see these men exactly how they appeared. But, thanks to Photoshop, as shown here in this carte de visite of Maj. Edward Burgin Knox (left) and Capt. Alexander McRoberts of the Fourty-fourth New York Infantry, we can get an idea of what they might have really looked like.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Advertisement in "Civil War Times"

Pleasantly surprised this morning to discover an advertisement for Faces of the Confederacy while thumbing through the latest issue of Civil War Times magazine (December 2008, Gen. Benjamin Prentiss on the cover). Included is the endorsement of author Bob Zeller of the Center for Civil War Photography, who noted, "Coddington has brought new life to Civil War photographic portraits of obscure and long-forgotten Confederates whose wartime experiences might otherwise have been lost to history."

The ad also refers to two other books, Gustavus Vasa Fox of the Union Navy by Ari Hoogenboom and Testament to Union: Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C., by Kathryn Allamong Jacob.

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